For more information on the Miami Hurricanes, be sure to visit State of the U or like them on Facebook. To learn more about the baseball squad at The U, we sat down with Cam Underwood, one of the site's main editors, to discuss the program. I've had the fortunate ability to work with Cam on many a project, and it was great to catch up with one of my favorites to talk some baseball.
BCI: Miami is arguably the nation's most glamorous program. The list of accomplishments could stretch from South Beach back up to Boston. What are the major components that make the Canes such a baseball powerhouse?
State of the U: Miami is in a premium location for baseball talent. The kids around South Florida play year round, and have some of the best youth development in the country. The Hurricanes' team has always been stacked with players from this area, and getting that local talent on the team matters.
The program has also been elite for the last 40+ years. No matter when you've watched Miami Hurricanes baseball, they've had multiple pro players on the roster, multiple hitters who could impact the game with a single swing, and multiple pitchers capable of shutting down the opposition. And, they Canes have been to the College World Series multiple times in every decade since the 70s. That visibility keeps them in the conversation for recruits, and shows this program is always capable of competing for a Championship.
No matter what some fans think (and there are some who are going to hate this answer), the coaching has been elite for a long time. Head Coach Jim Morris has 1500+ career wins, J.D. Arteaga was in AAA and on track to become a Major League pitcher before retiring to become the pitching coach at his alma mater, and the list goes on. When you look at a guy like Brandon Lopez, who was all glove and no bat as a freshman, turning into a .390 hitter as a senior, there's quality player development happening for the Canes.
So, for me, it's equal parts history, coaching, recruiting, player development, and the intangible "mentality". We're the Miami Hurricanes and you're not, and more often than not, the simple thought is all we need to beat the opposition.
BCI: Jim Morris has been at Miami for what feels like forever. How does he size up against the rest of the nation's best coaches - guys like, say, Mike Martin?
SOTU: Mike Martin wishes he was Jim Morris, to be perfectly honest. Morris has more than 1500 career wins, and 2 National Championships in his time at Miami. He's an elite coach with the resume to prove it. The other gentleman has as many National Championships as you or I do. I mean, since you brought it up.
Anyways, Morris is a great recruiter as evidenced by the wealth of Miami alums who are impact players at the minor and Major League levels. He can love to play small ball, much to the chagrin of many, MANY Canes fans. Miami has better talent than 97% (99%??) of teams we play...so why are we playing small ball against the Notre Dames of the world? Sometimes I wish Morris would let his hitters swing away more than play station to station baseball. It just seems like he can, at times, play the game way too cautiously. We all know Miami has the better talent on the field most nights. I just wish Morris would realize a little more often than he does.
BCI: Mark Light Field has an additional name attached to it thanks to a huge donation from (barf) Alex Rodriguez. When you look at the facilities Miami has as a baseball program, what are they offering out there to recruits?
SOTU: Everybody ALWAYS with the Alex Rodriguez hate. Whatever. He's one of the best players that I've ever seen, and he loves Miami, and he donated a boatload of cash to the program so I don't have any problem with it.
As far as facilities, Mark Light Field, affectionately known as "The Light" is as fine a college baseball stadium as you'll find. It's right on the corner of campus so it's conveniently placed. The team practices there (there's batting cages up the right field line) and it's just a great facility. The clubhouse/locker room at The Light is nice as well. Players can hang out there, and the baseball offices are also located at The Light. It's really a one-stop shop for the program.
On top of the baseball facilities, the Athletic Department has upgraded the Training Table (i.e. athletic cafeteria) in recent years. There's a new Student Center on campus, which is REALLY nice. Oh yeah, and the rest of the campus isn't too shabby either. So, when you put it together, Miami's recruiting pitch for baseball is this:
-We have great coaches and you'll develop as a player
-We play in an elite conference and you'll face top competition
-We've been to Regionals 44 years in a row, so you'll have a chance to earn a trip to Omaha
-Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field is one of the great College Baseball stadiums around
-There are scouts at 90% of our games, home and road. You'll be seen, and we'll get you drafted
-Miami is a top 50 institution so the academics for life after baseball will put you in a great place
-CAMPUS IS AWESOME
-Palm trees line every walkway on campus; the sun shines 330+ days a year; there are like 5 fountains on campus; we have a LAKE in the middle of campus; you're a 10 minute drive from Coconut Grove; you're a 20 minute ride from South Beach; pro athletes from all sports come to campus to train, or just randomly show up nearly every day of the year.
I mean...what else is there to say?
BCI: Talk about the Hurricanes as a program this year. How would you classify them as a team (more offense, pitching/defense, boom-or-bust, aggressive) and give me some names to watch this weekend.
SOTU: This year's Hurricanes team is a deep lineup with great defense and solid, if unspectacular, pitching.
Starting with the offense, Miami's greatest tool is their ability to get on base. They have a .398 on base percentage as a team, good for 23rd in the nation and 5th best of all remaining teams. They can wear pitchers down, make them throw a lot of pitches, and get into the bullpen and do damage.
Leading the offense is C Zack Collins. Recently named a 1st Team All-American by Baseball America, Collins is also a semi-finalist for the Golden Spikes award (Baseball's Heisman Trophy), and a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award for the Nation's Best Catcher. On top of that, Collins is projected to be a top 15 pick in this week's MLB Draft, so he's kind of good. With a stat line of .358 average, .534 on base percentage, .519 slugging percentage, OPS of 1.053, 13 HR, 53 RBI, and 69 (nice) walks in 57 games, Collins is the middle of the order bat that Canes opponents should, and do, fear.
Leadoff hitter CF Carl Chester is arguably the hottest hitter for the Canes. He had 2 game-winning RBIs in Regionals, reached base 6 times in the last 2 games of Regionals, and was named MVP of the Coral Gables Regional. He's the fastest player on the Canes' roster, and the clear table setter at the top of the lineup.
SS Brandon Lopez isn't your typical cleanup hitter, but his line-drive swing has played well behind Collins all year long. Lopez is hitting .392 entering Super Regionals, so he's a hitter to be feared. He doesn't have the power that Collins does, but he can hurt your if you make a mistake or try to challenge him with a fastball.
Other key hitters are DH Randy Batista, who had the Regional-Winning RBI single against Long Beach State, 2B Johnny Ruiz, a .340 hitter, and RF Willie Abreu and LF Jacob Heyward who both have immense power but have struggled to make consistent contact. There really isn't an easy out from 1-9 in Miami's lineup, and that quality depth makes the Canes very dangerous.
As far as the defense is concerned, Miami has a fielding percentage of .983, the best mark in the Country. When the ball is put in play, Miami fields it cleanly and makes outs. There have been several great plays in the outfield (Heyward and/or Abreu can routinely be seen robbing extra bases with diving grabs), and the infield, led by Lopez's steady glove, has been stellar. In previous years, Miami has been all stick and no glove. In 2016, Jim Morris' team has flipped that script and is now the best defensive team in America.
For the pitching staff, starter Michael Mediavilla is the ace. He's a big kid at 6'5" 225lbs, but he doesn't have overpowering stuff. He'll sit 90-91 with the fastball and his curve and changeup are both plus pitches. Fellow starters Danny Garcia and Jesse Lepore have both been good this season, but Lepore has struggled with shoulder tightness recently.
In the bullpen, freshmen Andrew Cabezas, Devin Meyer, Kevin Pimentel and Frankie Bartow have all played vital roles this year following the loss of junior sidearm specialist Cooper Hammond to Tommy John surgery. Junior Ryan Guerra also has talent, and pitched HUGE in the final Regional game against Long Beach State. Bartow has become the workhorse of the pen (5-0 record in team-high 39 appearances) and the setup man for the Canes. Cabezas has started a couple games this season, and pitched some big innings in Regionals. Meyer and Pimentel are both good, but best suited for middle inning work as opposed to the end of the game.
Speaking of the end of the game, Miami has one of the best Closers in America in Bryan Garcia. Already with the school record for saves with 41, including 16 this season, Garcia is a power pitcher with a great feel for the game. He will challenge hitters (maybe even a bit too much at times) and trust his stuff to get them out. Some have projected Garcia as high as a 2nd round pick in this week's MLB draft, and he may have a future in the rotation with his power arm and 4 pitch arsenal.
For Miami the gameplan is simple: get to the 9th with a lead and give the ball to Garcia. More often than not, that's a recipe for success.
BCI: It's a really easy flight from Boston to Miami. If people are going down to South Florida, where should they stay and what's the drink of choice? Where should they go for the nightlife besides everywhere?
SOTU: Oh man, this is a great question. I mean, where do I start?
If you want to be close to campus, the Sonesta Hotel in Coconut Grove is a great place. There's plenty of shops and restaurants in the area surrounding the hotel, and you're only a few minutes from campus. If you wanted to stay in Coral Gables proper, The Biltmore is a pricey but great option. (Fun Fact, the shootout scene at the beginning of Bad Boys was shot in the Al Capone suite at the Biltmore).
There's a TON of premium hotel options in the downtown area and over on South Beach (I mean, DUH). Places like The Epic, or The Four Seasons, or The Inter Continental, or The Conrad, or The Savoy, or The Clevelander, or The W, or The Loews, or The Shore Club, or The SLS, or The Delano, or The Surfcomber, or any number of places are premium luxury hotels where an out of towner could find plenty of rest and relaxation and immense amounts of comfort. You can even find a quality boutique hotel on South Beach for a relatively reasonable price. Those option may be a bit pricier, and are a solid 20 minute ride from campus, maybe more depending on traffic. But I'm SURE its worth it.
If you're ballin' on a budget,there's also a Holiday Inn across the street from campus, but that's not how you want to live if you come south to Miami for a weekend, really.
Beverage wise, if you're coming to Miami you have to have a Mojito. A classic mix of lime, mint, sugar, and rum, this light and refreshing cocktail is on the menu of nearly every restaurant you can find. Another top choice is either a "Call-a-Cab" or "Superman" from Wet Willie's on South Beach. Don't ask questions, just get it. And, you're welcome.
The nightlife in Miami is as varied and dynamic as anywhere in the world. No matter your tastes, there's a place where you can easily find a good time. Like clubbing? Go to South Beach and enjoy a night at Cameo or SoBe Live, or Mango's for the live shows, or Club LIV at the Fountainebleu (another great luxury hotel I forgot to list earlier).
Want to chill, head to Mokai Lounge, or Purdy Lounge, or the bar at any of the above hotels, or any OTHER hotel (trust me, I've been to most, they're uniformly awesome). Or, walk up and down Lincoln Road Mall for some great shopping and eating/drinking options at any time of day or night (Sushi Samba is one of my favorite spots).
Or, if you want to get artsy, head to Wynwood and try out The Wood Tavern or any of the other places in that area of town, which is just up the road from the Downtown/Brickell area. Or, you can try out any of the places at Mary Brickell Village. Those are good too.
I mean, there's so much to do in Miami, I haven't really even touched the surface, and I've named some of the top tourist spots in town. Search Google or ask a friend, you're sure to find a good time if you come down to the 3-0-5 for this, or any, weekend.
BCI: Tell me how Miami both wins and loses this weekend.
SOTU: Miami wins by getting timely hitting, a couple HRs from Collins, the same great defense we've seen all season long, a couple great starts from Mediavilla and Garcia, and the other Garcia locking things down in the 9th.
Miami loses if the bats continue to be silent, Garcia and Mediavilla's starts are less than 6 innings each, Jim Morris micromanages his way out of big innings, the freshmen relievers are pressed into longer outings than they're ready for, and Boston College rides the wave of momentum from winning their first Regional in School-History.
For me, it comes down to this: does Miami continue to be the team we've seen this whole year, a team that's gone 35-6 at Mark Light Stadium, or is the moment to big and this team shrink in the Supers like a Bobby Cox-led Braves team in the playoffs?
Even with a great effort from Boston College, who has proven themselves to be a worthy opponent by reaching Super Regionals, if Miami does what we've done throughout the whole season, the Canes should be able to with emerge from Super Regionals victorious, and book their 25th trip to Omaha for the College World Series.